THE months which followed were uniform, gray and depressing, and seldom did anything come to brighten their tediousness, which was aggravated by my state of health.
Letters from home only made matters worse. Mama, following up her brave attitude toward life in general and toward her children in particular, kept writing how gay and happy they all were at home; how she had taken Ducky to St. Petersburg for the season, so as to give her a change. Every epistle was overflowing with descriptions of the joyful things they were doing, and at the same time I was scolded for writing such dull, uninteresting letters.
"Give yourself a little trouble to write amusing descriptions of your life, your surroundings; tell us about what you do and about the people you see," she urged. But alas, there were no amusing descriptions to make. Since the official festivities had come to an end, I saw no one, and day followed upon day, a dismal chain without a break. Nor, in those days, could I see the humorous side of my "patheticness."
But worst of all, with a mistaken idea of cheering me up, she had forbidden Ducky to write to me the real state of her feelings, "so as not to depress her," she said. Ducky was only to write about her gayeties, her balls, her friends who were filling up the place I once occupied. In reality, Ducky was moping as much for me as I was for her. She had, in fact, been carried off to St. Petersburg so as to help her over the parting, which she had minded almost tragically, for her nature was deep and loving, and always somewhat stormy.
With a strange want of psychology, mama imagined it would cheer me to hear about the fun my sister was having, whilst I was, in reality, only hungering to hear how she missed me, longed for me, deplored my absence. Mama did not seem to realize that when you feel like an exile or one cast out from paradise, it is no consolation to hear of another's joy in the Eden you had to give up. Youth has a huge capacity for being miserable, and I was too young to rejoice over the thought of my once-inseparable companion being happy, gay and successful without me. I felt like a prisoner behind iron bars, peeping out upon an impossibly happy world out of which he had been cast.
So there was pain everywhere, and the pity I felt for myself darkened the face of the sun.
Not being able to reconcile myself to the inhospitality of the rococo boudoir, I took refuge in a small, plain, but harmless dressing room leading oil from the bedroom, which was also one of my terrors, being all hard corners and unnecessary steps. Here in this back chamber there was a couch to which I fled on these days when I was feeling particularly sick.
The two Louises played, of course, a large part in my lonely life. They, too, were homesick and followed with anxiety the phases of their young mistress' distress.
Louise Lang was in herself a humorous figure, had I only been able to realize it, but for the moment my sense of humor was at a low ebb; but looking back, I smile at her memory. That worthy person was magnificently certain that royalty really descended from beings not far removed from the gods. The Virgin Mary and royalty were the two outstanding landmarks of her simple faith- A crucifix hung over her bed, she said her beads with passionate regularity, and she positively believed that the devil had a tail. Louise Lang was, in fact, a species becoming nearer and nearer extinct—the species of the old family servant convinced that the king and her masters could do no wrong.
The remembrance of "old Louise," as I still call her in my mind, is indissolubly connected with a sad little episode which the loneliness of those first months of exile made almost tragic.
I had brought from home a bullfinch much resembling the bullfinch we used to tease in Grandmama Queen's sacred apartments, over which grandpapa's many portraits shed his shadow—or was it his light? It was an enchanting little bird and had been taught to pipe Freut Euch des Lebens, a popular German Volkslied, a sweet little song, but rather ironical, perhaps, under the actual circumstances. Bully sang it perfectly, but occasionally he would make a mistake; he would stop and scold himself in the most comic way, beginning over and over again till he got it right. And Bully had the same way as grandmama's bird, of getting thin when angry, and when pleased of puffing himself out into a ball of pink-and-gray fluff. He would then hop from one side to another of his perch, uttering the most endearing little pipes and poking his broad beak through the bars to be kissed.
A Cheerful Note in Exile
I ADORED Bully and Bully adored me, but he also loved Louise, and his third love was an old servant who had come with us from Sigmaringen. We three received the homage of his songs; he sensed our coming from afar and he would greet us with his cheerful Freut Euch des Lebens even before he saw us. Everybody else was scolded and screeched at.
Bully became the supreme, nay, almost the only consolation of my loneliness. Nando was away all the morning at his barracks: I was allowed to see no one, hardly even my old lady-in-waiting. I was not yet accustomed to be sufficient unto myself, and felt too ill to read more than a few hours a daily. So much did old Louise and I play with Bully that he became quite tame, and when the window was shut, we always allowed him to fly quite freely about the room.
At the first feeling of spring in the air, our winged companion became importantly active, picking up off the floor all sorts of odds and ends for the building of a more than problematical nest- He would follow old Louise or me about from room to room, sometimes flying, sometimes running across the floor with comic little hops- It was difficult to say who loved the bird most, Louise or I; Bully had indeed become the central joy of our lives.
But this is a sad world, joys are not eternal—mostly, indeed, they are all too short—and the joy over Bully was destined to be too short.
One day I was feeling particularly miserable and lay curled on my "couch of refuge," as I called the sofa in my ugly little dressing room, which was papered a dull-patterned gray, the color of fog and defeat. So wretched was I that I could hardly lift my head. Old Louise was standing beside me, discoursing upon some homely subject in her prim, precise, monotonous way. Her talk was punctuated by occasional little curtsies in keeping with the respect in which she held my poor little person. Precious Bully was hopping about the floor, busy as always gathering together material for that nest which was destined never to be built.
Bully's Song is Ended
HAVING come to the end of her dragging explanations, old Louise made a step backwards, ready to drop one of her inevitable curtsies. Only one step. You will hardly be able to bear hearing it, but that one step backwards was the end of our Bully and of his brave little song, and also of his small hopes of building a nest. With that single step backwards, old Louise crushed the one joy of our lonely, homesick days, Louise trod on Bully. For "each man kills the thing he loves—"
Never more did the cheerful Freut Euch des Lebens sound through the drab apartment. It had only needed that one step backwards, and Bully, with his song and his nesting ambitions, and with him all the joy he had been to us, was over forever. Bully was wiped out as though he had never been.
I leave to the imagination of each to realize what the death of Bully meant to decorous old Louise and to her lonely little mistress.
Madame Grecianu, my lady-in-waiting, who had three grown-up daughters of her own, understood that the regime I was being submitted to was not the very best for a young woman who was to give an heir to the expectant country. So she plucked up her courage and went to the king.
"Our princess is moping," declared the old lady. "In her state of health, this is not a good thing. Young people need company. Such absolute isolation is a mistake. She ought to be amused, to see people. It is not right that she should be exclusively left to her homesickness and to the company of her maids."
Uncle, who, in spite of his political austerity, really loved me, was impressed by this voice out of the desert. The case must be looked into, it was serious; an heir was the country's most-cherished hope, nothing must endanger it. So the wise men of the realm put their heads together; Ioan Kalinderu being chief counselor, and the prime minister also having his say. This was a state affair, for was not H. R. H. bearing the future crown prince?
"La princcsae s'ennuie." This was indeed perplexing. What form of amusement could be safely offered her which, while being sufficiently agreeable, would not give her undue illusions about freedom? What entertainments were in keeping with the program elaborated for the education of one so young and unprepared, and in whom the seeds of frivolity and independence might be lying dormant? Weighty problem! No false move must be made, no wrong door must be opened, no dangerous key must be put into her hand.
After much pondering und weighing the matter, those "stern men with empires in their brains," every one of them beyond the age of dreams and illusions, hit upon the bright idea that tea parties must be organized for "the poor child."
But in Rumania, according to King Carol's orderly conception of things, nothing must be undertaken à la légère, the pros and the cons must be duly examined, no one's susceptibilities must be ignored, no one must be slighted or offended, and as everyone was claiming the honor of coming into contact with the country's latest importation, the social ladder must be strictly taken into consideration.
One would have to begin at the beginning: The wives of ministers, generals, judges, professors, and so on, were the first on the list. Later, when all the important, weighty people had been waded through, a few younger ones might, perhaps, be included: "Aber dies muss man noch reiflich überlegen." This was one of uncle's favorite formulas.
So tea parties were organized in a deadly dull room with pompeian-red walls and ugly overgilded chairs. As principal decoration, a series of war pictures representing King Carol—uncle under fire, uncle on the ramparts, uncle passing the Danube on a bridge of boats, uncle on a prancing horse, uncle in a snowstorm, uncle receiving Osman Pasha's sword.
And beneath these patriotic pictures sat the sad little exile and received lean ladies and fat ladies, kind ladies and supercilious ladies, smart ladies and shabby ladies, ladies that were wrinkled and ladies that were painted, ladies who talked volubly and ladies who were almost as shy as the little stranger herself: but of the last-named group there were few, for Rumanians in general have a great flow of words at their disposal.
Running the Gauntlet of the Court
MADAME GRECIANU, sensing the hopeless boredom of these gatherings, flitted backward and forward like a gray moth between the different groups, doing her best to lighten the heavy atmosphere, whilst the unfortunate little creature who was to be amused sat all but mute, with an agonized expression in her eyes, wondering if she would get through the ordeal without collapsing, for the creating of an heir was causing her certain discomforts over which she had no control and which even the Spartan principles with which her mother had inoculated her could not help her to overcome.
I remember a sea trip in the company of one of the most ceremonious, elegant, polite and respectful gentlemen civilization could produce. But the sea made sport of all his poor little shams. He became greener and greener, conversation died by degrees, and finally, dropping the last shreds of his dignity about him, he tottered to the side of the vessel, not even finding the energy to flee where he would not be seen.
Thus it was with me at these deadly parties, during which I was the object of kindly but penetrating curiosity. I was as though on exhibition, an interesting acquisition everyone had a right to look at and criticize. I did my small best to be patient and good and long-suffering. I donned my smartest trousseau dresses, wore my politest smile, aired my best French, but all in vain: "The lovely, new-coming, little crown prince," as an enthusiastic Dalmatian, a generation later, once said to my little Serbian queen whilst offering her a silver dagger for the one not yet there—"the lovely, new-coming, little crown prince" had no mercy on his seventeen year old mother and overthrew all her poor, brave little pretenses.
An added torture was that we had been brought up with the stiff British ideas of that period, when it was considered improper to speak of a coming family event. Tout au plux, it was discreetly whispered that such and such a lady was "in delicate health," and this confidence was never made when the children were in the room; that would have been most unseemly! But in this country nearer the rising sun, none of these little pruderies held good. There was a great glory in the fact that a child was to be born into the world, and, of course, this was magnified a hundredfold when it was a royal child.
So indiscreet questions were asked of me. I was openly congratulated, and I was expected to give details about a condition of which I understood nothing myself. It was a ghastly ordeal, which each time made me feel that I must sink into the ground.
The wise men's inspiration of how to amuse a homesick princess did not, therefore, prove a great success. The cure threatened to become more cruel than the illness. But having had her say for the moment, Madame Grecianu felt she could do no more.
Here I feel that I must call back to memory a quaint figure who, at that depressed period, crossed my path.
Good Out of an Ill Wind
I was suffering from toothache, cruelly, abominably; I was one constant throb of pain. This, I was told, was also in connection with "the lovely, new-coming crown prince," and that was supposed to make my suffering less, which it did not. But with my toothache Doctor Young came into my life.
Doctor Young was an English subject, but a born American. He was one of Nature's gentlemen, but he was also original. His art was great, but not painless for the one upon whom he was lo use it; nevertheless, his visits became a solace to my solitude.
Middle-aged, dry and humorous, his face was quite that of the Uncle Sam, goatee and all. He said "good day" without effusion and his "good-by" was equally emotionless, but somehow, all the same, you felt that he was pleased to see you. He was a collector of good pictures, could discourse upon Rumanian art and always came accompanied by a neat little store of anecdotes about his clients, of which even (he most comic were related without a smile or the flicker of an eyelid. His calm was sculptural, but his face had settled into wrinkles of fun. His one weakness was a pronounced sense of opposition, which occasionally induced him to contradict himself, because it was ever beneath his dignity to agree with you on even the most simple subject.
When specially catering for his approval, I would present a question to him the wrong way round, which occasionally trapped him into saying what I wanted to hear.
In spite of what he stood for, this queer personage, with his still queerer ways, became a friend in need. He tortured my upper and my lower jaw, extracting four teeth, as he declared I had too many for the small space reserved for them, but he filled my young empty brain with strong and breezy maxims which fanned through the miasmas of my ennui like a healthy breeze. I think he pitied me, but it was certainly not his creed to express any such thing. All weakness was taboo; he made you feel ashamed of wailing.
One of his remarks has remained with me forever. This was at a later date. He found me bemoaning some news received in a letter from home. My tears were flowing like a heavy spring shower. "Wipe your eyes," said Doctor Young. "This is not going to be the last disappointment in your life."
This trite summing up of a situation, pronounced without either smile or frown, was characteristic of the man.
Our friendship long outlasted the years when my teeth needed his attention. I today I still treasure the memory of Doctor Young, who died only in the first year of the Great War. He was a personal friend of both King Carol and Queen Carmen Sylva. That an old American dentist should have brought solace to a little seventeen-year-old princess gives the measure of how lonely her days must have been.
The months dragged slowly on toward spring. Easter came and I wanted to go to Holy Communion according to home habits. Everything was prepared with the usual ceremony and complications adherent to my new surroundings, and off I set, with my anxious old lady-in-waiting as sole companion, to the German Protestant Church. I was not feeling well and the sadness of being for the first time alone for this blessed ceremony, and also the emotion, I suppose, proved too much for me. I fell in a dead faint on the floor before my good old Madame Grecianu was able to catch me in her arms.
Fluster, commotion, confusion—I was brought home and laid upon my couch of refuge. Madame Grecianu, still all trembling with the fright 1 had caused her, rushed to the king to announce qi'un petit malheur s'était produit. The king, imagining that his dearest hopes had been frustrated, was ready to tear out his hair. Ho hurried to our apartment, where he found me slightly tearful, but palely smiling and very much ashamed of myself, being convinced that mama would have highly disapproved of my fainting in public, like an early Victorian maiden in a ladylike novel.
The two Louises were fussing around me with smelling salts and what not, whilst, pale and scared Nando was contemplating me with eyes of love. But His Majesty was relieved; his hopes had not been destroyed.
This was, however, another occasion on which Madame Grecianu dared again to express her opinion that something must be done to tear me out of the splenetic condition into which I was sinking, to the detriment of my health.
But what could be done? Evidently the tea parties were no great success; something else must be devised. But uncle and nephew were already so anchored in their everyday routine, from which every caprice or fantasy had been carefully extirpated, that it was not easy to break through the pedantic order of things so as to amuse a moping child who could not always keep up the pretense of being grown-up. Again several wise heads were put together, and it was finally decided that a visit to the fortresses which encircled Bukharest might present a form of amusement acceptable to all sides.
King Carol was exceedingly proud of this series of fortifications, elaborated according to the most advanced military conceptions of that period. The princess was fond of things military; the minister of war and other high army officials could be invited to take part in the entertainment, and it would at the same time be an occasion for His Majesty to make a royal inspection. Certainly this was an excellent idea. Madame Grecianu nodded approval; she was also to be one of the party, and with motherly understanding she would see to it that the military gentlemen did not overfatigue her precious young charge.
In the Net of Red Tape
Any change in the dismal everyday program was acceptable to me, so, in spite of the minister of war and the several old generals who were to constitute the backbone of the party, I was as pleasurably excited as I was expected to be. No particular remembrance has, however, remained to me of this military entertainment except of how dear old Madame Grecianu, full of a mother hen's anxiety for her princess' welfare, hung on to the back of my ample bell skirt in case I should collapse when, in demonstration of their excellence, the different cannons of the forts were to be fired off for His Majesty's approval. I much resented this unnecessary fuss made over my person and tried to make my old lady-in- waiting understand that, being an admiral's daughter and having stood on many a deck during the firing of guns, a few fortification cannons were not going to make me faint; at which she smiled at me with that broad smile of motherly indulgence which was her sweetest characteristic.
Spring having come at last, like a timorous guest, uncle had an even more unusual entertainment in store for his troublesome, homesick niece. This was a visit to a monastery and to a convent situated amidst lakes and swamps a little way beyond the town. Today, when motors have made all places easily within reach, this has become quite a short drive, but in those days of slow carriages, it was quite an excursion, which had to be organized with care "und viel Uberlegen"—German comes instinctively to my tongue when I think of dear old King Carol, as it was always in that language that we conversed together.
Uncle's conversation was always instructive, and if it was often beyond my comprehension, it was my fault, not his. He loved speaking about his adopted country. He had put all his energy, all his intelligence, political ability and first-rate German efficiency into his life's work. He was always interesting, but to one so young and undereducated as I was, his somewhat pedantic dissertations occasionally seemed rather dull.
But at last we were going out into the country, beyond the confines of the town, a thing I had been craning for, but which, in spite of my pleading, had not yet been granted me, not out of unkindness but merely because their imagination did not stretch so far as to understand that a wee bit of change occasionally would have made all the difference to my cramped and incredibly dull life.
The Mysterious Plots of "They"
I must be forgiven for over and over again using the vague term "they," because it was in this impersonal form that the huge vetoes of life rose before me, restricting everything, blotting out every possibility, effacing all joy of life out of my days. "They" did not want it; "they" could not understand; "they" did not find this or that in keeping with a princess' dignity. "They" were always in eternal opposition to my every desire and aspiration, and as "they" had no special form or color or face, "they" were difficult to fight, persuade or overcome. "They, they, they" terrorized my poor little life.
Well, this vague "they" did not comprehend my natural desire to get into touch with the real feel of the country—with its people, its soil, its habits, its history. From the very first I sensed that behind the deadly ennui of the life I was condemned to live, there was something else—something larger, more real—that might even be tinged with some of that poetry I had imagined I should find in this far land. It lay, no doubt, somewhere beyond the daily round, beyond the palace which stifled me, beyond the town which held me prisoner, beyond the narrow horizon which hemmed me in. It was like a big heart beating somewhere outside, waiting for me—a heart that would one day understand me, would one day beat also for me. And now suddenly a door was being opened; I was to he allowed a peep into the country. Uncle did not in the least realize that, with this meager little promenade, he was sowing the first real .seed of love for Rumania in my heart.
I look back to that excursion to Cernica and Paserea as to a day of initiation—the initiation into the spirit of the country, to the mystery and poetry of those sanctuaries scattered far and wide amongst the green, sweet places of the land. Ever since that day, a steady love grew up in my heart for the convents and monasteries of Rumania, for their beauty, calm and peace, for their delicious Old-World charm, for their strong link in the chain of the past.
To add to the enchantment of this first touch with the outside, we were to drive in a carriage drawn by four enchanting Norwegian ponies—thickset, stalwart little animals, cream-colored, with immensely broad necks, rendered broader still by high-hogged manes. Their rounded haunches had the color of unripe apricots and a quaint, dark line ran the whole length of their backs from their foreheads to the utmost tip of their long-flowing tails.
Cernica—a monastery built in the middle of vast swamps all aflower with wild yellow irises. A curious, rather-unsafe- looking, wooden bridge, very long, flat, half rotting away, which swayed beneath the feet of the four Norwegian ponies, a bridge which ran over into a narrow road between the swamps, leading toward a little colony of white cottages grouped round an old church. A lonely looking place, over which lay a strange stillness full of melancholy charm; it had something world-forgotten about it, something forlorn, almost decaying.
The church was reached by driving under an ancient belfry set in the enormously thick outer walls of a large enclosed courtyard, roughly paved with round cobbles. The bells were ringing for all they were worth, making a great ado, and when, with a clatter of horses' hoofs, we drove up before the church door, a dark river of monks came pouring out to meet us, a procession of bearded men, sable-clothed and soft-footed, looking huge in their long, dark cassocks; their high headdresses and dense black veils adding to their height; their gestures were humble and they kept their eyes turned to the ground. The abbot, or starilz, bent low before the king, offering him cross and Bible to kiss, and then ushered us into the church whilst the dark brethren lifted up their voices in a queer, wailing chant. A Te Deum was sung; the monks' voices were untrained, unharmonious, but the monotonous singsong, although not particularly pleasing to the ear, added in a way to the atmosphere of the place.
One old monk offered me a humble nosegay of sweet-scented cottage flowers—pinks, pansies, sweet basil, and little tufts of verbena; for roses it was still too early in the season. The old man's heard was frosted silver, and his eyes had the dim color of the lake which bordered his modest enclosure. I looked longingly over this wide, somewhat melancholy, water world; great peace lay over this lonely place; peace and deep, dreamy, but very simple beauty which somehow my soul understood. For the first time since I had come to my new home, something awoke within me, something begun to stir—something like a faint hope. It was like a wee, hardly discernible voice, sounding I knew not whence, promising that one day—one day, perhaps, than would be some link, some understanding between me and this alien land. Someday, if only "they" would let me grope my way toward it; let me feel, touch, see, discover, understand; but to make this possible, "'they" must not shackle me with overheavy chains.
But looking back upon my life, absurd as it may sound, that visit to Cernica was the first awakening of that deep love and understanding which gradually grew up between me and Rumania; therefore. I cannot help looking upon that unimportant little drive into the swamps as a date which counts in my life.
From Cernica we went to Paserea. Paserea was a convent. The nuns were just as pleased to see us as the monks had been. But they were fussier, talked more, exclaimed, crossed themselves at every word they or uncle said, ran hither and thither—behaved, in fact, rather as geese suddenly disturbed.
Of course, I could not understand a word of what they said, but I understood that I was a thousand times welcome, and this feeling was good.
After having been sufficiently blessed we drove home. The hoofs of the Norwegian ponies clattered along the endless roads, raising clouds of dust. We passed small villages composed of tiny houses like those we used to draw as children, impossibly delightful little houses with shaggy, maize-covered roofs, which I always imagined could only exist in fairy stories.
Summer at Sinaia
Finally the day came for moving to Sinaia—that day which, according to uncle's code, could never be changed, was not to be changed this year, either, for the sake of a moping young woman who was carrying within her the hope of the country.
But the slow calendar did at last reach the blessed day of migration, and the king and court were transferred from plain to mountain. Oh, blessed day!
Like a captive whose chains are suddenly taken off, the joy of being in the country was almost unbearably great. The keen, fresh air, the giant trees, the mountain background and, above all, those marvelous meadows, green, luscious, starred by a thousand flowers, and all the flowers larger and more deeply colored than anywhere else.
Sinaia is indeed a beautiful place, now that I have got accustomed to its beauty, but that first time I saw it, it came to me somewhat in the form of a revelation: after the hot, dusty ugliness of Bukharest, it was release, rapture, enchantment.
For this year we were still uncle's guests, but farther up, on the very edge of the forest a little house was being got ready for us, a sort of glorified Swiss cottage, which was called the Foişor. Nando and I greatly rejoiced at the thought of having our own house. Castel Peleş, uncle's summer castle, was a grand abode, but too overpowering for the country; like the Bukharest palace, Caslel Peleş had about it the quality of a cage. In his love for Altdeutsche, the style so dear to the country of his birth, King Carol had overdecorated his royal residence, had put in gloomy, stained-glass windows which shut Nature out; everything was heavily carved, heavily draped, heavily carpeted. There were some splendid old pictures, hut the rooms and corridors were so dark that were so dark that one could hardly see them, and what was really good in the way of furniture was drowned in on oppressive too much which made you almost giddy.
The general effect was rich, dignified, impressive, hut the somber papers, the untransparent glass, the gloomy hangings were not conducive to cheerfulness. As at Bukharest, I could not feel at home in such heavy rooms; besides, everything seemed to have been planned to shut out the sky, the sun.
Uncle had no idea of the meaning of country life; he brought his town atmosphere with him to Sinaia; he brought his court, his politics, his military preoccupations, his audiences, his weighty discourses. But for all his solemn way of living, this was a vast improvement upon Bukharest. Beyond the heavy doors, the painted windows, the dense curtains, lay the forest, the mountains, the meadows and the laughing little streams. This was not freedom, but the air that I drew into my lungs was like a draught of cold water; there was no dust, no noise, no tramways, no streets, and the fields were full of flowers.
Nando and I loved the flowers. Nando became the same Nando I had known at Coburg and Sigmaringen when I got him amongst the flowers; then he became young again; he could laugh and enjoy himself, and had no more that painfully anxious look. Yes, how he loved flowers; this was a tremendous link between us, a bridge by which we could always reach each other amidst things that I did not understand.
Today I can still conjure up before me the way he would hold flowers in his beautifully aristocratic hands; he had a special way of holding them—as though he did not want to hurt them. All through the years, the good and the bad years, he has brought me flowers with exactly that same gesture, handling them so tenderly; and each time he came to me thus, be it with a simple snowdrop or a precious orchid, it was like that first time at Munich when, so shyly, he brought me that bunch of roses, holding them almost reverently, as though to do them no harm.
But in the evening he became uncle's obedient nephew again and played billiards with him every- single night, and I was supposed to find my amusement in watching their game whilst they asphyxiated me with, the fumes of their heavy cigars.
Luckily, at Sinaia the household took their meals with us, which was a change from the oppressive lunches and suppers at Bukharest, where we had always been three, and foremost amongst the household was General Vladescu, my special friend, with the long white mustache and mischievous eyes. General Vladescu was always able to make me laugh; though laughter in those days was dangerously near tears.
How I hated the click of those heavy billiard balls!
Reunion With Ducky
But now I am coming to a happy hour. So happy that today still I catch my breath merely at the thought of it.
Ducky was arriving. Ducky, my sister, my pal, my companion, my chum; mama was sending her to me. Mama would be coming later for the great event, but mama had understood that I must not be allowed to mope too long, so she was sending on Ducky ahead.
As children, we had always scoffed at the idea I hat there could he tears of joy, but on this day of Ducky's arrival I understood t ho meaning of tears of joy.
We were to meet Ducky at Predeal, then the frontier. Nando and I were to drive out with the four Norwegian ponies—quite an excursion—and on the way home we would stop at a wee little monastery perched amongst the fir trees, just off the road, and there we would drink our tea.
This was exactly the right way to receive Ducky. Ducky would understand the charm of the thick-necked, cream-colored ponies, understand the joy they were in my life. She would love the little old monastery and the mountains, and especially the gorgeous meadows full of flowers.
And it all went off as it should; the train was punctual, and the joy of meeting was such that it was akin to pain. Nando laughed his shy little laugh and he, too, was pleased to see Ducky. Nando was not jealous of our love for each other; he was happy to have a sister. And as planned, we drank our tea under the giant fir trees by the quaint little monastery with its toylike church, whilst a trio of hoary monks, hands tucked into their wide sleeves, looked on at our little feast. They were primitive old recluses, they had not many words, but they gave atmosphere to the first picture Ducky-was to have of the country which had become mine.
The Clash of Two Strong Wills
The coming of Ducky put new life into my existence; even boresome things became interesting and everything was worth while. Ducky could see things from the same angle as I; she understood what was unbearable, what was funny, what was pathetic; we were still ignorant little fools, our judgment was not worth much, but blood is thicker than water and there are certain things and their why and wherefore which only a sister or a brother, those who have been brought up with you, can understand.
Even the billiards did not matter any more; Ducky was there to tell me about home, to share things with me so that even the clicking of those dreadful ivory balls had quite another sound. And mama had sent me all sorts of little presents, and every one of Ducky's words was a link with the past.
Summer slipped gradually over into autumn; the trees became an astonishing glory of rust, umber and gold, and in the first (lays of October mama came, bringing Sandra and Baby Bee.
Uncle was tremendously polite to mama, but it was not long before their two strong wills clashed. There was a Russian autocracy about mama which uncle occasionally resented. Mama was practical, high-handed, accustomed to manage and to rule; she came into a house where there was no hostess and in which a family event was soon expected; this gave rise to a certain amount of differences of opinions. Mama and uncle did not sec eye to eye about doctors, nurses, and many other things. Mama had had five children and knew all about it, but uncle was accustomed to mix up politics with his daily bread. He saw deep problems in each smallest event, all things were to him weighty, full of pitfalls; he treated the smallest happenings as though they were insurmountable difficulties. Mama had an imperial way of sweeping obstacles aside quite indifferent to the opinion of others and not in the least comprehending with what care, ceremony and ponderation uncle was surrounding the coming event.
Even small events were magnified by this careful, judicious, prudent king, and the arrival of what might he the long-expected heir was no small event indeed.
Conflicts, discussions; irony on mama's side, irritation on uncle's, and between the two stood my poor Nando on tenterhooks, I, the apple of contention, understood little about these controversies, and had my face anxiously turned toward the trial before which I stood; mama's cheery smile was like an anchor onto which I hung.
It was only afterward that Nando related to me the many episodes preceding the great event, and I understood the tragi-comedy of the situation in which the poor young husband had been torn hither and thither between the conflicting forces, his common sense on mama's side, his loyalty on uncle's, as nothing- would ever make mama admit that uncle need mix up politics with doctors, wet nurses, dates, names, hours of the day, and even rooms.
In later years, after my third child, I took the managing of things into my own hands; it was more peaceful, and little by little I had learned to understand and respect uncle's point of view. He had the right to be master in his own house. His rule was hard; go hard that it made a suffering instead of a joy out of youth; he had no comprehension for the young; all was iron duty. But it was a good school; it hardened your moral muscles, and if you were made of strong enough stuff not to be broken, it put iron into your soul, preparing you for the vicissitudes, trials and renunciations of life. It also taught you patience. But it had one drawback: Having been just too hard, it made you vow within your heart not to inflict the same suffering upon your own followers, and thereby inclined you to too great leniency.
The pendulum always swings back.
Grandmama Queen from England, a mighty lady in her day, put an end to some of the controversies by sending an English doctor to assist her granddaughter in her trial.
"We want to be on the safe side," said grandmama. "So near the East, you know. . . . Most uncertain. . . ."
The Victory of Queen Victoria
In those days, old Queen Victoria had her say everywhere and in everything, it was not in vain that she had ruled so long, and even uncle bowed down before her might, "The Queen of England. Missy's grandmother." So uncle submitted and the English doctor came, and on Sunday the fifteenth of October, at one in the night, my first child was born, the heir so impatiently awaited; and they called him Carol, after his great-uncle and the rejoicing throughout the country was great. Curiously enough, Carol was born on exactly the same date that, twenty years before, mama had given birth to Alfred, also her firstborn.
There I lay in the great Altdeutsche bed, exhausted, shaken, feeling very small, very helpless, and dangerously near tears. What was this fearful battle I had been through? What did all that pain mean? But it was an astonishing moment of bliss when the living, flannel-swaddled bundle was laid in my arms. Was this really my child? And mama was there, bending over me, and the expression of her dear, round face reminded me of that last night at home before I set out for life. And Nando—how pale he was—and uncle, who came later, said that now I was like a soldier, having been through fire.
But that curiously trapped feeling was still with me. All these events had happened outside myself; there were terrible forces at work quite beyond my control.
I was continually being overruled, taken by surprise. Was Nature an enemy? Were human beings all in league with one another to keep me in the dark? And that pain—that dreadful pain?
"She had a very easy time," assured round little Doctor Playfair with a beaming face.
"An easy time. Do they call that easy?" And 1 felt like turning my face to the wall, unwilling to take up a life again in which such pain could exist.
Mama, however, was exactly the right person for cheering up a new mother. "Listen to the cannons," she said. "Think of how delighted the people will be when they hear the hundred and one salutes." Faintly I heard the voice of the cannons, and faintly I smiled. What the people felt was a matter of indifference to me; I had not yet discovered my people; they had been carefully kept from me. In those days I was certainly not a à la hauteur of the event which had just happened. I had no idea that at this hour I was a very important person who had brought about a very important event.
Later, when I had become a responsible human being and had, so to say, taken my fate into my own hands, those hours when, the battle over, I lay with the new little human soul clasped in my arms listening to the royal-salute became hours of deep, conscious, almost-sacred emotion. I felt that at these hours my country was listening with me, watching with me; I felt the heart of my people beating in mine, and mine in theirs. Yes, I have had in my time those joys. Little by little I had become a conscious patriot. a willing part of the great machine, and that feeling of love and unity with my people was for me a holy feeling which rendered effort, sacrifice, abnegation, worth while. I was one in the great plan of things, a necessary entity, and being as I am, the consciousness of this fact meant much to me. I was fundamentally rash, impulsive, uncalculating, but the law was within me—the law of equity, the law of just common sense. But this came gradually, by living, after many struggles and much suffering, and also, alas, many revolts, for I was not a tame, passive being; I had to find out things for myself.
But at this first birth mama was a precious necessity. I could hardly bear her to leave the room; she was so safe, so capable, and she was home—the home I had lost.
Unfortunately, my sisters wore gone! Mama had meant them to leave before the event. There had been very comic scenes with Baby Bee. Baby Bee had always been a child of exceptional intelligence. Being the youngest, mama guarded and adored her with special fervor, but, for all that. Baby Bee was a forerunner of the youth of today. In spite of all mama's love and care, Baby Bee generally outwitted her anxious parent and had most things her own way. Mama, true to her principles, did not wish her youngest offspring to know that a family event was expected. How she could ever delude herself with the hope that the keen-eyed child did not notice everything that was going on is incomprehensible.
So as to keep the unruly child out of harm's way, every sort of amusement was arranged for her; amongst others, a pony had been procured upon which she was allowed to ride about to her heart's content. It was cheerful General Vladescu who was chosen to be her companion, and she very much perturbed this kindly gentleman by urging her little horse up the stone steps of the castle terraces. Uncle used to witness these pranks from his windows; unaccustomed to children, he was kept in continual alarm. But the austere sovereign took a great fancy to this amusing and intelligent younger sister of mine. They became firm friends; he would take her for long walks in the forest, during which she gave him many a fright by climbing about in the most perilous places she could discover. Uncle used to hang on to the end of her short skirts so as to suppress her too great energies.
But the comic thing was that Baby Bee immediately spotted that something unusual was going on in the house, and in spite of the many enticements invented so as to lure her beyond the castle gates, it was each time a struggle to get her to go out. If some event of interest were to take place within, she certainly had no intention of missing it.
Baby Bee Sees the Baby
The baby was supposed to appear round about the eighteenth of October, so it had been decided that my sisters should leave a day or two before. But at one o'clock that Sunday night "the lovely new-coming crown prince" put in his appearance, thus frustrating mama's carefully laid plots and playing into the hands of the child who was to have been kept in ignorance of what was going on.
Sister Baby was triumphant, but, being in bed, I did not witness the scenes which took place around the tiny cradle before my sisters were, with many tears, hurried away, none except Ducky having been allowed to see me.
Mama remained some time longer at Sinaia, which was an enormous joy. She would read to me by the hour, but also inquired much into my life and impressions. She was somewhat perturbed when she realized how exceedingly, abnormally dull was the life I was expected to lead. To her, as to me, it seemed unnecessary to mix up politics in everyday events, thereby complicating all things so exceedingly.
Mama received many diplomats—Bülow, Gudehowski, Fonton, Sir Charles Hardinge—but Bülow was the one she liked best, and he would come to her what we children considered much too often, because we disliked and mistrusted him, much to mama's indignation. "You are much too young to have any opinions," declared our parent. No doubt she was right; nevertheless, we had the feeling that he was not to be trusted. Children often have these instinctive dislikes.
Two Red-Letter Days in One
Carol's christening took place with much ceremony on the twenty-ninth of October, my eighteenth birthday. I remember mama putting on all her magnificent pearls for the occasion. Orthodox christenings generally take place as soon as possible after the child's birth, the child having to be entirely immersed; it is easier done when they are quite small. Mothers, according to tradition, never assist at the christening of their children, but if well enough, receive congratulations after the ceremony is over. This was done in my ease.
Decked out in a lovely tea gown, all satin and lace, which mama had given me for the occasion, I was installed upon a couch in my room. My nurse and the two Louises fussed around me, so that I should look my very best. The ceremony over, the little Christian was brought me and laid in my arms, and it was thus that my future subjects came to congratulate me and express their joy over the gift I had made to the country.
Many came: old ministers and generals, important wives of important functionaries, and those of the court, also the servants. I felt proud and a little trembling, with my precious babe clasped in my arms; rather as though I had suddenly been given a living doll, because this was not only Carol's christening but my eighteenth birthday.
From the very first, Carol was a big, healthy and exceedingly amiable baby. His coming made, of course, a great difference in my life; quite new horizons opened before me; I had now a mighty interest around which all my hopes and energies could center.
Yes, God had been kind. He had allowed me, at the very outset, to satisfy the dearest desire of my people.
Editor's Note—This is the second of a new series of articles by Marie, Queen of Rumania. The next will appear in an early issue.